By KIMBERLIE OLMAYA N. QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY— Environment and indigenous peoples groups from Northern Luzon and other parts of the country greeted the 58th Mines and Safety Week celebrations with protests. They pointed to the environmental disasters and human rights violations due to mining as they staged their own Mine Unsafety Week.
An inter-regional protest caravan led by the Defend Patrimony and Kalikasan Peoples Network for the Environment culminated in Baguio City on November 14. It gathered some 400 indigenous peoples and representatives from mine-affected communities in Benguet, and regions of Ilocos and Cagayan.
The groups who joined the caravan also staged a demonstration on November 13 in front of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) national office in Quezon City. They demanded justice for the gross human rights violations, and harmful practices of mining companies, and the glaring negligence of the Aquino government. The killings of anti-mining advocates, the unfair labor practices and environmental destruction by mining companies were marked with a liturgical prayer before they went to Baguio City.
Rights violations related to mining
The caravan also highlighted the worsening human rights situation in mine-affected communities as a clear indicator of dangers of mining in the Philippines. Kalikasan cited the 18 mining-related killings recorded under the Aquino administration, 14 of which occurred in minerals-rich Mindanao region. It said that 21 incidents of other human rights violations against environmentalists also recorded in 2012 involved mining issues – cases of harassment, vilification, militarization and frustrated assassination.
“As the government and mining companies brag of mines safety during their mining conference this week, we reiterate our position against destructive mining and its accompanying militarization and human rights violations. We cannot deny the fact that mining is severely degrading our environment and livelihood as seen in the recent Philex mine spills, and has resulted in numerous violations of our rights as indigenous peoples and human rights.
Throughout northern Luzon, the experience of mining-affected communities and mineworkers prove that there is no such thing as safe and responsible mining,” said Santos Mero, Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Deputy Secretary General and convenor of Amianan Salakniban Mining and Human Rights Network.
Philex as poster boy of mine unsafety
On November 14 the groups trooped to the regional office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) Cordillera to submit initial results of the environmental and social investigatory mission (EIM) on the Philex tailing pond 3 failure conducted last October. The groups assailed MGB for issuing permits to large-scale mining companies to degrade the environment.
After the submission of the EIM report, the groups staged a march-rally that ended in a short program at the People’s Park.
Aside from the Philex tailings pond failure, Mankayan folks affected by the exploration activity of the Far Southeast Gold Resources Incorporated (FSGRI) reiterated their stand not to allow further exploitation of their land by large corporate mines.
Other affected communities of the Ilocos and Cagayan Valley regions shared how magnetite mining adversely affected their sources of livelihood. Even the representatives of affected communities in the Visayas and Mindanao attested to the environmental degradation caused by mining. They also said mining operations have disrupted their community life and even caused conflict and disunity among them.
Stories shared during the protest actions reveal that people in mining-affected communities suffer environmental degradation, loss of sources of livelihood, loss of homes, displacement and even loss of loved ones.
“We hold the Aquino Government accountable to the environmental, health and livelihood impacts of mining, and human rights abuses. Our right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, to our territories and self-determination has to be respected. We demand for a moratorium on all existing mining operations and applications, and a pull-out of military troops from our communities,” added Mero.
On November 15, the groups held a picket at the University of the Philippines Baguio in hopes they could get their message across to South Africa’s Deputy Minister for Mineral Resources, Godfrey Oliphant. They wanted to tell Oliphant about their opposition to mining and the Mankayan folk’s protest against the entry of Goldfields, a South African mining firm that invested in the Far Southeast project of Lepanto and FSGRI.